Past, Present and Future of Online Classifieds Industry in India

When the Indian cricket team performs poorly, pat comes a message on Whatsapp “Isko <player name> OLX pe bech de..”

Such is the popularity of the online classifieds sites in India. From being a new concept which has been successful in the US to becoming a household name, online classifieds industry has come a long way indeed, and has carved a niche for itself for sure. It has low barriers to entry, i.e, people can give a try to online or e-commerce via online classifieds. Since it neither involves online payments nor high value goods, it is easy (read less risky) for people to give it a try.

From times immemorial, people have been using advertisement for publicity of their products and services, particularly in newspapers. But with the advent of internet and its wide use classifieds advertising is gaining popularity online and in other periodicals which may be sold or distributed free of charge. Advertisements in a newspaper are typically short, as they are charged line by line, and one column wide, whereas online classifieds give much flexibility and are cheaper than larger display advertisements used by businesses.

An estimate from global advertising market is worth over $200 billion, which was only the estimate done in newspapers, television and radio media. But with the growing internet penetration, the size of the pie for online classifieds may be even bigger.

The most popular sections in the online classifieds are used electronics, recruitment, second hand automobiles, used home or office furniture, real estate, educational services and other miscellaneous ads, and these are growing at a breakneck speed.

History…

In 1990 when internet usage became very popular, Online Classifieds originated in the USA and became very popular. One important reason for this popularity was a major drawback of offline classifieds — high costs, line and dimension wise charging all over the world.

The pioneers of technology had predicted that advancements in information technologies could expand classifieds industry to over $100 billion. Online classifieds offer flexibility to add information, images, links and other forms of multimedia, thereby creating a win-win situation for buyers as well as sellers.

The father of online classifieds was Craig Newmark, who in 1995 created an email distribution list with co-workers and friends to publicise events in the San Francisco Bay Area. The subscriber numbers grew rapidly through oral communication, and that is how it all began, with the Craigslist becoming web based in 1996. Till date Craigslist remains the most popular online classifieds website in the US. But in India, the world’s second largest country by population, the most popular site is OLX.

Nature and Scope of Classifieds Industry…

The business of online classifieds creates a platform for buyers as well as sellers to exchange information. This open, transparent marketplace effect tends to create network effects. In Indian context, online classifieds businesses such as Naukri.com, Justdial.com and Bharatmatrimony.com have demonstrated success and today are household names. As online classifieds are cheaper form of advertising than the conventional media, its growth will continue to boom for the upcoming years to come. A major role is played by the internet penetration that has allowed the posting of classifieds on the web to reach a wide client base.

The online classifieds are progressively gaining popularity every now and then. The various websites, internet enabled tablets and mobile devices increasing every day, it has contributed a lot to the growth of the industry. A lot of people regularly access the internet only to explore these classifieds online.

A major class of advertisements is matrimonial section, which has grown to occupy the better sections of online free classifieds in India today, largely because they are keeping in view nearly by every household and millions of people end up getting married through these matrimonial classifieds. Another class of popular ads section is job listings, with millions of people looking for jobs every day almost on regular basis plays an important in increasing demand of online classifieds results in its popularity. Other important sections are private investigative agencies, education, real estate, transportation etc.

Challenges…

Like every promising sector, e-commerce in general and online classifieds in particlualr have been plagued with certain challenges. Overcoming them is the key to ensure sustainable growth. These challenges include information hoarding, fake profiles, long distances. Another challenge is the mismatch between the buyers and the sellers i.e. sellers are not online while buyers are all over the Internet.

But these are external factors. What personally irks me is the manner in which information is being assimilated and presented on the online classifieds sites. Lets consider an example: A person in Borivali, Mumbai wants to buy used tablet with a budget of say Rs.6,000. He searches for “buy used tablet mumbai” and finds websites listing sellers from Mumbai. After doing some painful due diligence like calling or emailing them, he figures out that they are actually located at Cuffe Parade, Nerul/Vashi etc. So is it worth the effort? Was it worth the effort to get in touch with them in the first place? I think the answer is a chest-thumping NO.

OnSwap, Localised Online Classifieds
Wouldn’t it be great if we could get buyers and sellers sorted by distance and location? This got me thinking and we started working on OnSwap, a free, location based online classifieds platform.

Future Outlook…

Initially in the early years of online classifieds, classifieds such as jobs and matrimonial helped the changeover of consumers from newspapers to online. However, now consumers are moving to online classified platforms that address their multiple needs much faster at a single place. According to Pranay Chulet, CEO, Quikr.com, the online classifieds industry has been growing very fast and will continue to do so in the coming years. This is primarily due to the simplicity in usage and it being a better suited platform for a larger set of consumers across the country.

Also the consumer likes to browse around, go through a variety of products, negotiate on price of products, and see value in the product before the final transaction. This again offers a huge opportunity for a horizontal classifieds platform like Quikr that helps the consumer in all these things. A variety of such factors will lead to continued growth in digital classifieds which really speaking is a simple, smart market form of e-Commerce.